Over the course of the past decade, jump-shooting waterfowl has unfortunately fallen by the wayside in many duck hunting circles. “There’s nothing like watching the birds respond to a call,” says one hunter. “Where are the decoys?” states another. And finally, the biggie — “There’s no skill involved in sneaking up and shooting a duck,” claims a third. And while I agree that a working a big flock of mallards or sprig into a carefully arranged decoy spread is both a tremendous thrill and a most memorable achievement, I must stand and argue the third comment. No skill involved in jump-shooting?
No, a carefully planned and successfully executed jump-shooting venture requires every bit the skill, talent and strategizing, and perhaps moreso, than does a morning spent blowing a call while looking over two dozen painstakingly placed plastic ducks. But how, you ask, does one take jump-shooting from luck through logistics and on to success? Read on, Oh Jump-Shooter to be.
Elementally speaking, any place ducks will sit where you can get to them, preferably unseen, is a prime candidate for jump-shooting. Over the past 20 years, I’ve jumped and bagged birds over beaver swamps, tidal streams, big river backbays, freshwater ponds, temporary puddles of sheetwater, and even sewage lagoons, to name but a few. Short of a cut-and-dried formula, the first and quite possibly the only characteristic which a potential jump-shooting location need possess is that it can be sneaked; that is, you can approach to within effective shotgun range of the birds without first being seen. As I’ll soon explain in greater detail in the section called The Approach, there is, at least in my mind, what I’ll call a scientific and a non-scientific method for getting within this effective range.
In most cases, all you’ll need is a familiar shotgun, a supply of ammunition, and, depending upon the type of habitat you’re hunting, a pair of hiking boots, hip waders or chest-highs.
First, the shotgun. Whereas my 9.5-pound Remington Model 11-87 is an excellent choice for the blind or on very short jumping jaunts, you will often find me toting a much lighter 20-gauge Model 1100 or 12-gauge Model 870 on my extended jump-shooting forays. It’s important to remember that in the jump-shooter’s case, 95 percent of your field time will be spent serving as a means of transportation for both a shotgun and its ammunition. That said, it only makes sense, if given the option, to carry a lighter piece.
For in-your-face jump-shooting — small timbered creeks or shoot-across ponds, for instance — I’ll typically opt for lighter non-toxic loads such as 1 or 1 1/8 ounce charges of No. 5 or No. 4 steel. On the opposite end of the spectrum are jump-shooting situations involving larger bodies of water or even fields; those types of scenarios where your first response might be at 40 yards and your third at 55. Here, I’ll give a nod to the heavier 1 5/8 to 1 7/8-ounce loads in the 12-gauge, 3-inch hulls, with my shot sizes of choice being No. 1 or No. 2 in steel, or No. 4 or No. 5 in Hevi-Shot.
For sake of discussion, I’m going to divide jump-shooting into two categories based on what I call their approach. These I’ll call the non-scientific and the scientific approach.
The aptly-named non-scientific (NS) method involves a bit more luck than it does logistics and planning. Under NS guidelines, the hunt often resembles more of an armed creekside or shoreline walk, with the hunter pausing at each and every bend, turn or backwater bay or cove to investigate the area’s duck potential before moving on to the next likely looking spot. If the birds are there, maybe they’ll get some action; if not, it’s on to the next puddle.
The scientific approach begins in advance of the season. Mapping software — I use TopoUSA 4.0 from DeLORME Mapping (www.delorme.com) — affords me a two-dimensional aerial view of those waters I plan to hunt. These computer-generated maps give me the opportunity to pinpoint and study those locations on the creek or marsh where ducks should be. Armed with such information, I can then go into the field, again pre-season, and physically scout these locations. Where and when possible, I’ll do my scouting long-distance using binoculars.
Traditional, challenging and physically rewarding. Jump-shooting is all of this and more, and hardly deserves the unfortunate and unfair ‘bad rap’ it receives from some of the country’s waterfowlers. Yes, for me, there’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush I get during those final few steps toward the widening ripples, their maker unseen, coming from the edge of a cattail-lined pond. Just another step…one more step…NOW!